My favorite posts in 2017/2018



This is my 60th post – hard to believe but it’s already been a year since I started this blog (June 4th 2017 was my first post, “think smarter”).  A lot has changed but much remains the same.     .     .   I’ve researched and opined about many topics:  millennials, music streaming, cord cutting, home buying, car buying, etc.  I’ve learned a great deal about these subjects, and maybe even more about myself.  I still feel somewhat unqualified to give you tips on personal finance.  But I don’t think writing is about creativity as much as it’s having the patience to discover those ideas worth passing on.


Many of you have encouraged me along the way and I’m gratified that these posts have helped some of you along your financial journey.  If we are supposed to learn from our failures then maybe I am certified (or at least certifiable); qualified to pass along things from those times when I swerved head long into self-made problems.  Maybe some of you have been there.   .     .


I thought I would take this opportunity to revisit some of my favorite posts along the way.  Oddly enough, some of my most popular posts (800+ views) are not my personal favorites (e.g., “tax planning”).  Maybe there’s a lesson in that – personal finance isn’t really that exciting – it’s more like a chore – but there’s satisfaction and a reward to be had from a job well done; so I encourage you to keep up the good fight and keep on keeping on.


I decided to look back over the past year and tried to look over my posts to see which ones were the most impactful and most likely to “hold up” over time.  I’m hoping you agree and will take the time to review (or read for the first time) my favorite posts over the past year – maybe these are just the posts that I enjoyed writing but I’m hoping that some of these ideas helped you along the way.


Your career is your biggest asset.  You should maximize your potential by being the best version of you (that you can be) and increase your salary in the process.  Many surveys indicate than an overwhelming majority (between 70 and 80%) of Americans hate/dislike their jobs.  Don’t complain about it – do something about it!  Read this post as I give you some practical advice on how.


Learn some innovative personal finance strategies from generation Y – those born from 1980 -1995.  There are some traits that are quite common among this generation – traits that set them apart from other generations.  I list the top 10 things that I admire about the millennial approach to personal finance.


This is probably my deepest and most philosophical post.  I employ critical thinking and skepticism in this introspective inquisition.  It explores what might be holding you back from succeeding in your quest to become financially independent.  I seek to challenge the way you think about your finances (agreement is not required).  How are you doing financially?  What’s the hole in your pocket?


You might think you don’t need to read this one but chances are many people reading this need to think smarter about their next car buying decision.  85% of new cars are financed.  The average car payment is approaching $500 per month, with an average loan amount of over $30,000 (financed over 68 months) – yikes!   My philosophy is a little counter to conventional wisdom but I hope you will indulge my strategy as I hope it helps you make a smart choice on your next vehicle.


Half your income for rent?  Say it ain’t so!  Craziness I say.  I think you should aim for 25% (or less).  I’ve read some crazy articles (talking to you USA today) about house buying tips and I think they are intellectually bankrupt!  Just because somebody posted an article on the internet doesn’t make it so.  In this post I give you some tools and ideas to help evaluate if you should rent or buy and how much of your income you should allocate to your monthly housing expense.  I also have some practical, but not necessarily easy or convenient, advice on how to get to 25%.  If you don’t have a plan.   .     .


Who are you?  It’s another deep/philosophical question that I want you to ponder before you respond.  In this post we explore the habits of successful people (as well as not).  Spoiler alert – there are differences.  I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to contemplate the consequences of these habits and then consider your own.  Hint, there’s probably room for improvement.


68% of Americans in debt doubt they’ll ever pay it off.  In this post I argue that’s an excuse, a method for putting off the necessary and pragmatic steps – that you can take – to become (and stay) debt-free.  I’ve heard this frustration first hand and really want to do something helpful for those people who are sick and tired, of being sick and tired.  This is a tough love post but I believe some have come to think of their debt as an unavoidable circumstance and are unwilling to change their lifestyle, because there is nothing they can do about it.  I list some common causes of debt as well as some practical tips on how to get out of debt (if you’re already there).  Permanent fixtures in your life should be faith, family, friends, not debt.    .     .


This was done via special request.  At the corner of crisis and opportunity, job loss is a real threat that each of us should prepare for (unless you’re retired).   In this post we explore some steps you can take to be prepared (kinda-sorta-maybe) for the proverbial “pink-slip”.  I also lay out some steps you can take if you find yourself in the unemployment line.  I was laid off once myself, so I have first-hand knowledge of what this feels like.  This is an emotional as well as a financial problem – one that should be prepared for before getting laid off.   .    .


Your financial dream, this is the fun part, go ahead and dream, but make sure you dream BIG!  Let your imagination go.  What do you want your financial future to look like?  Does it involve debt?  Harassing calls from collectors?  Living paycheck-to-paycheck?  That’s not a dream, that’s a nightmare.  I believe writing down your financial dream is the first step to success.  But don’t stop there, set some goals in order to make your dreams a reality.


I watch way too much HGTV (fixer upper anyone?).  They make home improvements look easy, but are they really?  When is it smart to spend some of your hard-earned money on home improvements?  In this post we explore some practical steps you can (and should) take before you embark on a reno project.  I also pass along some ideas for home improvements – things that you can do right now – regardless of your budget.


Honorable mention:


Imagine the strong magnetic pull of the debt star (star wars reference – going to see SOLO today).  There are lots of opinions about debt.  Some think it’s a great way to borrow your way to becoming rich (Robert Kyoski, author of “rich dad poor dad”) and some are super-negative about it (Dave Ramsey).  In this post we back up and take a fresh look because I think it’s a really good question.  We explore what the Bible has to say about debt and when it’s a really bad idea to go into debt.     .     .


Seriously, I really do.  I want you to take a long, hard look at your financial decisions.  I want you to question (at least ponder) your financial strategy.  In this post I show you some practical ways to measure how you’re doing financially.  I realize some of my recommendations seem downright unrealistic – I agree!  I struggle to make smart financial decisions myself.  I also address some of the personal finance myths and excuses, because you might have bought into a lie.   .    .


In finances, you aren’t competing against your neighbor or your co-worker, you’re competing against yourself!  Are you making progress toward your goal of financial independence?  Or are you getting in your own way?  Let’s walk through 6 ways to measure financial success and see if there are any areas you need to work on?  I include my answers as I take some of my own medicine.   .     .


I know I do.  How do you recharge your batteries?  I think I’m suffering from frugality fatigue (I’m not – don’t feel sorry for me – seriously – no one else does); when you’re tired you’re tempted to make bad financial decisions.  So what’s the secret?  How can I recharge my batteries?


In this post we explore the BLS generational report; a great way to see how much others (in your age group) spend on their everyday, normal expenses.  How do you compare?  Are you better (or worse) than “average”?


If you read all 15 posts then I’m sure you’re tired of reading.     .     .  Having said that I wanted to let all my faithful readers know that I’m taking a break.  I’m going to spend some time with family and friends over the summer and wait for some new personal finance topics/ideas to come my way.  You can help!  Please send me ideas for topics you want me to write about.  Let me know if any of the posts above helped you on your financial journey.  Please forward any posts you liked to family and friends.  I hope you have a great summer and we’ll be back together again in the fall (probably September).

I want to give a special thanks to some folks who have really helped me along the way.  I want to go back to the very, very beginning.  I want to thank my buddy Steven for encouraging me to take a chance and start this blog (its been a crazy ride).  I want to thank Phyllis for all the engaging financial conversations we’ve had, as well as her guest post “Financial Tips from the School of Life”.  A great post from someone who has already achieved her financial independence.  School is in session, I suggest you take notes.

I also want to thank my lovely wife for being my ever faithful editor.  She is probably the only one brave enough to read all my posts – who am I kidding?  She only read all my posts because she had to.    .      .

I want to give a special shout out to my buddy Marcus.  He helped me much more than he knows.  Many of our conversations were the spark for some of my best posts.  Writers block is a real thing.  Marcus really helped me on that front, although I doubt he knew he was my source.  He was also kind enough to guest post twice.  If you haven’t read them yet, you really should.   .    .

Catch ya on the flip side.    .    .


lake george


How do you define wealth?

true wealth


Interestingly, most Americans cite a stress-free life and having “peace of mind” as their personal definition of wealth (Bloomberg article May 2018, I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post).  On the surface this appears to indicate that many have a healthy view of life and don’t believe acquiring vast amounts of money is the key to happiness.  But I’m not so sure that’s what these results really mean.  I believe many would readily admit that money, or rather the lack of money, can be the cause of a great deal of stress.  Your personal definition of “peace of mind” might also include financial freedom.  Is your personal attainment of contentment contingent on acquiring vast amounts of money?  According to a Schwab survey (annual modern wealth index), Americans believe you need $1.4 million to be “financially comfortable” and $2.4 million to be “wealthy”.  I believe you should set financial goals and have the self-control necessary to delay gratification in order to achieve your goals; however, I don’t think your contentment should be contingent on having amassed such and such in your bank account.  I want you to be content now! Life is a journey, not a destination.  See my previous post on being content.



Clearly many Americans believe you can buy happiness.  I will readily admit that a significant lack of money can be a stress inducing situation and I won’t try to convince you otherwise.  However, each person’s definition of “wealthy” appears to vary considerably with 18% defining it as being able to afford anything they desired while 17% said it is having “loving relationships with family and friends”.  I would argue that the pursuit of money is not a meaningful pursuit in and of its self.  Many rich people commit suicide.  Mo’ money mo’ problems (renowned American philosopher “the notorious B.I.G.”).  They didn’t have a purpose.  They were just chasing the glittery things of this world.  Read my previous post about having purpose in your life.


What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Matthew 16:26

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Romans 12:2




Americans long for lives that don’t revolve around money – which makes sense, 60% of those surveyed say they live paycheck to paycheck .    .    .


What is wealth to You? (survey results below)


Living stress-free/peace of mind                    28%


Being able to afford anything I want              18%


Loving relationships with family, friends       17%


Enjoying life’s experiences                             14%


Having lots of money                                      11%


Having good health                                         7%


Being charitable                                              2%


Other                                                                   3%



What makes for a rich daily life? (survey results below)


Spending time with family                             62%


Taking time for myself                                    55%


Owning a home                                              49%


Meals out/meals delivered                             41%


Subscription services like Netflix, Spotify       33%


Grooming/pampering                                    29%


Having the latest tech products                      27%


Shopping at specialty grocery stores             22%


Having a busy social life                                 21%


Driving a luxury car                                         21%


Gym membership/personal trainer               17%


Using a home cleaning service                       12%


Using a car service, not public transport        10%


Other                                                               4%


None of the above                                          6%


49% of respondents said that saving and investing is “the key to wealth” with another 40% citing “hard work”, and 11% citing “luck“.   .    .

Think about it.   .    .

This was a shorter than normal post but I thought these survey results were absolutely revealing about how the average American thinks about wealth and their everyday decisions; how they affect our happiness/contentment.

wealth quote




Do you ever get tired?

tired dog


I know I do.  How do you recharge your batteries?  I like to say that I suffer from frugality fatigue (you shouldn’t feel sorry for me, seriously.   .    . no one else does.   .    .).  When you’re tired, you’re tempted to make bad decisions.


I think the key to turning your financial life around is to be content with what you have.  Don’t focus on what you see from others on Instagram and Facebook – focus on your life – be content and don’t try to live someone else’s life.  I looked up the definition of content:

In a state of peaceful happiness.   Willing to accept something; satisfied.

I don’t want your financial journey to make you bitter because of unreasonable sacrifices, rather I want your financial journey to be part of your path to satisfaction.  I want your financial decisions to become part of your habits, part of your lifestyle.  Life is an adventure – live with passion, live with a vision of what your financial independence will look like one day.  Live with a dream – live with a purpose!

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11-13


I want to revisit one of my previous posts to help recharge your batteries, because sometimes we get tired and lose sight of our purpose, lose sight of where we’re trying to go.  I strongly suggest you read “the purpose driven life” by Rick Warren – it will change your perspective because “it’s not about you“.  It’s about the quest for personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and meaning in life.


Happiness, for some it’s an elusive pursuit of a mirage in the desert – always within sight but just out-of-reach.  For others, it seems to come naturally.  What makes them different?  I came across an article in Forbes that started with people who were already happy and ranked the top 10 things they had in common.  Let’s dive right in.


1)  They slow down to appreciate life’s little pleasures (the mountains are calling and I must go .   .    .)

blue ridge

2)  They exercise (you already knew this one, they regularly schedule it and follow through)


3)  They spend money on other people (giving will change your perspective on life)


4)  They surround themselves with the right people (avoid negative influences)


5)  They stay positive (stop complaining so much)


6)  They get enough sleep (really helps with mood, focus, energy and self-control, also reduces stress)


7)  They have deep conversations (avoid gossip and judging others; instead, build a connection with someone)

Jack Handey

8)  They help others (it’s a positive influence on your mood, but don’t over-commit)

helping others

9)  They make an effort to be happy (attitude is a choice – work at it)

be happy

10)  They have a growth mindset (you can improve with effort, challenges are really opportunities to learn something new)


There’s no energy in just existing – Dave Ramsey


Start each day with prayer and a Bible verse (the Holy Bible app will send it right to your smartphone (i.e., a push notification).  Be thankful for all the blessings you have and the opportunity to live another day.  Also start your day with a list of priorities.  What are the most important things you need to accomplish today? – write them down and cross them off as you accomplish them.  Say no to distractions (Facebook anyone?)


You are only given so many days – make each one count!  Be faithful each day, show up and play hard!  Practice excellence.  Never lose sight of your purpose – evaluate your daily habits.  There is more than mediocrity – watch some dave ramsey videos (on the app) as people share their success of overcoming debt and how they did it.  If they can do it, so can you!

Today’s post too short? – click the link below and read my previous post on lifestyle creep.

Drop me a comment below and let me know how you deal with those times when you’re tired of being frugal.   .      .



How much should I pay for that?

how much


In last week’s post I discussed the BLS (bureau of labor statistics) April 2018 consumer expenditure report.  This week’s post is going to expand on that and focus on the BLS generational report (i.e., BLS birth year.xls).

I think this report is a great way to see how much others spend on certain expenses (for example their cell phone bill).  I especially like the generational report because you can narrow your comparison to others in your same age cohort; which makes the comparison more relevant.  My argument is that a millennial’s expenses will be quite different from that of baby boomer who recently retired.   Therefore, use the BLS generational table and pick your respective generation’s column and find out what your cohorts spend on life’s normal, every day expenses.  Last week we focused on the percentage of your income you spend on these categories but this week we’re going to compare the actual expenses in good old US dollars.  The numbers below are for a household income of about $94,000.  This might be more or less than your situation but sometimes percentages get a little vague and abstract.  I need some real numbers!

average guy

One word of caution however, the BLS survey is what the “average” person in your generation spends on something (e.g., car payment).  This proverbial “average” person isn’t really meant to be held up as some kind of ideal.  Quite the contrary, this “average” person is really the C student in school.  It’s a useful reference to see how a C student did on the test, but I wouldn’t celebrate too much if you are at, or slightly better, than a C student (don’t celebrate mediocrity!).  Conversely, don’t console yourself if you’re only slightly worse than this proverbial C student.  Please see my previous post on why its actually a really good thing to be super average (um.   .   . yeah.   .    . not so much.   .    .).


I’m a Gen Xer so I’ll be using that generation as my reference point, see their numbers below; however, you should choose your respective generation and consider why are you doing better or worse than “average”.  If you are worse than the average then you should absolutely sit around the kitchen table and ponder how can I improve?  Enough small talk, let’s get to the numbers!


Gen X


Food (includes alcohol)
 420 groceries
 341 restaurants



modified food & groceries to include pets, personal care (e.g., shampoo) and household goods (e.g. laundry and cleaning supplies)




 1,483 total mortgage including property taxes and insurance
 33 natural gas
 134 electricity
 139 phone
 53 water
 16 other
 $913 transportation
 402 car payment
 201 gasoline
 102 insurance
 78 repairs/maintenance
 129 other – including public transport
 $370 healthcare including premiums, Rxs and doctor visits
 $365 entertainment
 122 pets
 102 tv
 82 admissions
 60 other
 $743 insurance/social security
 $731 miscellaneous
168 charity
224 clothing
340 other (reading, education, personal care, tobacco, etc.)
 $2,034 taxes/savings
 $7,823 total expenditures
 $7,823 monthly gross income
$93,876 annual gross income

I will include some of my own numbers (in blue, below) to take some of my own medicine.  .    .


Food and groceries.  We spent $1,187 per month on food and groceries in Q1.  That’s higher than the reference of $1,104, which is the modified food/groceries number from the BLS.  It’s modified to include pet food/supplies, personal care items (e.g., shaving cream), and household goods (e.g., laundry detergent).  I used the modified approach because we buy most of our groceries at Wal-mart and this includes things like cat food, shampoo, and air filters; we don’t account for these items separately.  These last items get categorized by the BLS as entertainment (pet expenses), miscellaneous (personal care), and housing (air filters).  I believe it’s pretty easy to diagnose my problem here – it’s going out to eat!  I know I should bring my lunch to work most days and should avoid restaurants – especially desserts.   .    .



Housing.  I think it’s better to break this down into its components


Our monthly mortgage payment is $1,207 which includes property taxes and insurance.  I believe the comparable BLS number is $1,483 but that might be a touch high due to their inclusion of household maintenance, which my mortgage payment doesn’t .   .   .


Our combined monthly electric and natural gas bill is $167 per month ($95 for electric and $72 for natural gas) on the equal payment plan (EPP).  This is actually the exact same as the BLS average of $167.  How ironic.  See my previous post on how to lower your heating & cooling bills.

Our cell phone bill is $132 per month, slightly better than the BLS average of $139 per month.  See my previous post on how to save money on your next smartphone purchase.

Our water bill averages $62 per month (Q1), slightly higher than the BLS average of $53.


Transportation.  Let’s try rapid fire.  Our car payment is $402 per month (same as the BLS).  We spent $338 per month (Q1 average) on gasoline (BLS average is $201).  We spend $168 per month on car insurance (BLS average is $102).  Not my best category.   .    .


I spent more on healthcare and charity but about the same on TV.  I think you get the idea.  Plug in your numbers and see if you’re doing better or worse than the BLS averages?


I know this exercise (and this post for that matter) were a little detailed (a.k.a, boring!) but sometimes personal finance involves a little number crunching and some critical thinking about how you can spend less .   .     .


boring 2

Answer these 6 questions to see how you’re doing. . .

time to waste

It’s April already! Where does the time go?  I’m an accountant, as well as a personal finance nerd, which means I use excel a lot.   .    . So lets crunch some numbers and see how things turned out in Q1 (first quarter 2018). There’s some good news .   .    .   and there’s some bad news .   .       . Let’s start with the good news: We contributed 14% (of combined base salary) to our retirement (including the company contribution), we are on track to fully fund our health savings account (HSA), our net worth increased about $14,000, we stayed on budget (spent less than our income), paid off about $5,000 on our debt (still have mortgage and auto debt). We spent less than the national average on food, housing, utilities, and transportation (as a percentage of income, see chart below, national average per BLS consumer expenditure survey).

The bad. We spent more (than the national average) on healthcare, entertainment, charity, and miscellaneous.  Even though we stayed on budget for the quarter, the miscellaneous category was a bit of a problem. We spent a lot on healthcare – medical care is really expensive (I know, I know, stop the presses.  .   .).  The mortgage debt doesn’t bother me too much (for now) – but I am disappointed that we still have a car note and owe about $1,000 on a credit card, left over from my new computer purchase.   .     .  See a previous post on my recent computer odyssey.


In finances, you aren’t competing against your neighbor or your co-worker; you’re competing against yourself! Are you making progress toward your goal of financial independence? Or are you getting in your own way? Let’s walk through 6 ways to measure financial success and see if there are any areas we need to work on?  I’ll put my answers in blue.

  • Your net worth. Is your net worth going up or down? Remember that net worth is everything you own (e.g. house, 401k, etc.), subtracting everything you owe (e.g., mortgage, student loans, credit cards, etc.).  Our net worth went up about $14,000 in Q1 (woo hoo).


  • Your credit score. An excellent credit score will result in a lower interest rate; that can make a big difference. Let me give an example.  A 4% 30 year mortgage on a $300,000 house would have over $215,000 in interest over 30 years! (a 15 year mortgage would have less than $100,000 in interest, but that’s a topic for another day); that same 30 year mortgage would include about $280,000 in interest at 5%. Going from 4% to 5%, on the mortgage, will cost you an extra $65,000 in interest payments! (for the same house. .   .) A good credit score is an indication of paying your bills on time and being conscientious to pay-off your debt. I would rather you not had any debt at all (other than a 15 year mortgage), but if you already have debt, don’t neglect your credit score and end up paying more in interest.     .       . A very good score is 740 (or higher).  Mine is 835; that’s actually not entirely a good thing.  It means I’ve had, and continue to have, way too much debt.   .     .


  • The number of months your emergency fund will carry you. Most financial planners suggest 3-6 months worth of expenses be saved in a savings account (not stocks, bonds, CDs etc.). What would happen if you lost your job or had another financial emergency (examples include medical emergencies and necessary home repairs (e.g., a leaky roof). What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? Would this involve lots of credit card debt.     .       .  See a previous post on possibly losing your job.

I’m not doing so well here; I usually only keep $1,000 to $2,000 in savings.  Plenty of room for improvement.    .    .


  • Your retirement saving percentage. Millionaires invest at least 20% of their income, according to the Millionaire next door (Thomas Stanley).  My retirement investment %, including the company portion, was 21% of my base pay, or 17% of my total pay (including incentive compensation), or 12% of total household income (including my wife’s pay as well as dividends).


  • Your debt-to-income ratio. To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, take the total of your monthly debt payments (e.g., car payments, student loans, etc.) and divide it by your gross monthly income (for the month). It’s optimal to be debt-free, of course, but according to, lenders look for a target debt-to-income ratio of 36% or less. What’s yours?  Mine is 18% – still too high.  We did manage to pay-down about $5,000 of debt in Q1.  It’s not much, but it’s progress.   .    .


  • Your giving percentage. Personally, I believe a true measure of personal financial security is the ability to give. I don’t just say that as a Christian (Christ was a giver, John 3:16, just sayin’). Giving will change your perspective on life – I promise.

make a living

Remember, its not about you (purpose driven life by Rick Warren). Research indicates that giving to others makes us happier than spending money on ourselves. I’m a Christian so I believe this percentage should be at least 10% – the Bible tells us not to steal from God.  Mine was only 8% this quarter.  Made a minor miscalculation regarding my incentive compensation in March.  Plan to correct that in April.   .    .

our % national %
housing 17% 25%
transportation 8% 12%
food 7% 10%
ins./social security 12% 9%
healthcare 8% 6%
entertainment 6% 4%
charity 8% 3%
miscellaneous 15% 8%
taxes/savings 19% 23%
100% 100%

1) Housing – a little better than the national average; probably because we haven’t “traded-up”; we’ve lived in the same house for over 13 years now. Also because we haven’t done many of the updates we could or should have.   .   .  See my previous post on whether you should “invest” in home improvements?

2) Transportation – a little better than average – which is kinda surprising because we still have a car loan – see my separate post on cars.

3) Food – a little better than average – which is also a little shocking because we could/should do better – especially eating out at restaurants – see below a separate post on food.

4) Insurance/Social Security – kind of a weird BLS (bureau of labor statistics) category – we are over budget here but I think that’s because I took out a new disability policy and it’s a little pricey due to some previous health issues (cancer, stroke, etc.).  Including social security is a little odd but that’s the way the BLS did it.  See below a separate post on whether (or not) you’re actually going to get any benefit from social security?

5) Healthcare – a little worse than the national average; I have some chronic health conditions (so does my son) including Crohn’s disease and high cholesterol, which entails some expensive prescriptions; at least we fully fund our health savings account (HSA) each year and get a bit of a tax break by paying for medical bills and prescriptions from the HSA; it also serves as a sinking fund; monthly out-of-pocket health care costs don’t impact our monthly expenses (i.e.,. take-home pay expenditures).  This helps to avoid a cash crisis due to a medical bill.  Don’t neglect your health!  HSA is funded via a payroll deduction.


6) Entertainment – a little worse than the national average – probably because we spent a little too much at Christmas, paid that off in January.    .    .  Spending too much on my son is one of my weaknesses.


7) Charity – a good bit higher than the national average. I’m a Christian and believe that the Bible strongly encourages us to give to others – especially to the church – in order to help the needy and tell people about God.  We are supposed to be Christ-like and God was a giver – John 3:16 – just sayin’.  See below an inspirational video – it’s worth watching – trust me.   .    .

8) Miscellaneous – a good bit higher than the national average – this is mostly due to Mark’s private school tuition – a choice I will definitely make again because I know how much better Mark does when his education is specialized for his autism.

9) Taxes/savings a little better than the national average (BLS consumer expenditure survey from April 2018 – it’s actually 2016 data but it’s the latest available) but I confess this is an unusual category.  I “plugged” (a.k.a., “derived”) this category to get the total average annual expenditures (per BLS) back to the total income before taxes per the BLS.  The BLS April survey shows income before taxes of $74,664 but only $57,311 in total expenditures.  Therefore, I have concluded that the difference in these two numbers is due to either taxes or savings (neither category is listed in the BLS summary).  Our taxes are relatively low (as a % of income) because we itemize, but we tend to spend most of our take home pay .   .    .    I decided to look at expenses as a percentage of income before taxes to get “the big picture”.


big picture


Let’s compare to how the rich spend their money.


Do you have a hole in your pocket?

hole in pocket

You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

Haggai 1:6

What’s the hole in your pocket?  (think about it before you answer – it’s actually a really deep question).  Before I get into that – let me frame the question and maybe expand your horizon a little (hope this works.   .    .).  I think the same answer applies to someone trying to escape poverty, trapped in alcoholism, or even weighed down by a life of a sin (more on that later).  Stick with me – some of my ideas probably seem unrelated and random.   .     .


Why do you read this blog?  Before you answer that strangely awkward and mildly inappropriate break of internet protocol – let me answer who (the intended audience) this blog is for.  The demographic answer is 20 and 30 somethings starting their careers; anyone just beginning their personal financial journey.  The more authentic and transparent answer is anyone on their personal financial journey who is willing to learn and willing to change.


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy

change yourself

Personal finance is 20% education (learning how) and 80% discipline (following what you already know).


In this blog I try to address both – mostly by using myself as an example (the good, the bad, the ugly).  Let me back up and tell you about myself and the purpose of this blog (to set the landscape).  I am a Christ follower (He is risen!), this affects every aspect of my life, including my personal financial journey.  I truly believe that many will continue to struggle with their finances until they get their priorities in line with the Bible (I know it worked for me).  Many people try to fill the God sized hole in their heart with other things: money, alcohol, drugs, etc.  – these things are but a poor substitute (temporary high) for a real relationship with the God of the universe!  The God that created the earth, the stars, the galaxy, even you and me.  John 3:16.  I recommend the book “the case for Christ” by Lee Strobel – I also really enjoyed the movie based on the book.  I’m a pretty big fan of Dave Ramsey and his quest to help people become debt-free.  I agree with that goal.  I have attended his financial peace university and highly recommend that to anyone who has not been (it costs $100, but it’s worth it!)

I like sports (Go Heels! Go Panthers! Go Braves!), visiting the NC mountains, spending time with friends and family, listening to music, watching TV, and reading books. My day job is in accounting. I love to discuss current events, personal finance, politics, business, technology, generational differences and religion.  Feel free to send me ideas about topics you want me to write about.  Please contact me directly at

Now that you know a little bit about me, let me describe this blog’s purpose.   .    .

Financial decisions are all around us – they happen almost every day.  I created this blog to share my experiences in hope that you might learn from my success as well as my failure.     .       .   Life is hard – do your research and learn from your mistakes – better yet – learn from others’ mistakes and avoid those money pitfalls.  Helping others, through personal finance education, is a passion for me.  I am intrigued by how people approach financial decisions – some of these decisions turn out well; and some, well, not so much.   .    .   I’m convinced that most financial mistakes can be avoided.  Having said that – we are all human and prone to making poor financial decisions.  Let’s take a journey together and find ways to think smarter about our daily decisions and how they impact our personal finances.  I don’t claim to have all the answers but hope this blog will help educate folks about some money strategies and insights as we try to think smarter together.  (from my first post in June 2017)

I want to challenge the way you think about your finances  (agreement is not required).  This blog also gives me the opportunity to work on 3 of my biggest character flaws: chronic procrastination, a tendency to give up too easily, as well as avoiding difficult tasks.  I promised myself that I would blog for at least a year.  I started last June and have over 50 posts under my belt so far.  I have been tempted to quit numerous times; who cares about this silly blog anyhow? – and who am I to give financial advice? (honestly, who throws a shoe?)  It’s actually been many much more difficult than I anticipated to come up with fresh, interesting, relevant, helpful posts each week.   .    .  But alas, I shall press on!

press on

Now that you know who I am and the purpose of this blog.  Please tell me if I have remained true to who I am and the original purpose of this blog?  Better yet, please tell me why you read my posts?  I know it’s helped keep me accountable for my own financial decisions – maybe that’s goal.   .     .  Please comment below or contact me directly at


Be skeptical – ask questions, use critical thinking. I quote the Bible not because I want you to be impressed – I want you to read the Bible for yourself and apply the truth to your own life.   If you have never read it, may I humbly suggest you start with Proverbs.    You can probably live without Jesus, but can you die without him? Just sayin’

So how are you doing financially?  What’s the hole in your pocket?  Please read one of my previous posts to help evaluate your financial situation.  Because regardless of where you are on your financial journey it’s important to ask – on a regular basis – How am I doing?

I’ll do a post next week about how I’m doing as a quarterly check-up.

Be inspired to change (pick one thing, just one thing, and promise yourself that you will improve – this week!) – watch the video below – if this doesn’t inspire you, you might want to check your pulse.    .    .

next exit


Bonus section – for those of you who are interested in starting your own blog

A couple of you have expressed interest in writing your own blog and I am here to encourage you to go for it!

Blog definition from the Oxford English dictionary (not to be confused with an article)

A regularly updated website or web page, typically run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

Before you decide if you can monetize a blog, you first have to write something interesting – something people want to read.  Content is king! I read “blogging for dummies” before I started.  Be a content creator, not just a consumer of information.

blogging for dummies

This blog itself is different.   .   . Blogs generally fall into 2 categories, private and commercial. Private blogs are for close friends and family and are not open to the public; a way to share family photos, memories, etc. with loved ones. Most other blogs are written for the purpose of making money; not that there is anything wrong with that .   .     .

The personal finance blogs that I follow are designed to be a part-time, or even a full-time, occupation for their writer(s) (e.g., The way they make their blog a money-maker is through advertising revenue, product endorsements and commissions from purchases (web traffic on their site). I know it’s a little complicated, but these folks get paid to give you advice. The reason I tell you that – is my blog is neither private nor commercial. It’s open to the public (not private) but isn’t a commercial blog either; actually, I pay extra to remove ads from my blog – so my hobby actually costs me money.   .     . I don’t recommend this particular strategy as a sound way to increase your net worth (insert sarcasm).

I used to help setup my blog.  Please reach out to me personally and I would be happy to share what worked for me.  If you are more of a DIY person, then might the way to go – it’s free!



I bought a new computer (did I pay too much?)


Many of you already know that I’m an Apple fan boy, so it won’t surprise you that I bought a new iMac (all-in-one computer) this past week.  I’ll list the specs (for all you techies out there) later in the post, but want to review how this purchase fits into my personal finance strategy.


I believe more and more (wisdom guided by experience) that you get what you pay for (most of the time anyway).  I recommend that you do your research (before a major purchase), buy quality, and then keep that item for as long as you can – maybe even a little bit longer.   .   .


I think this philosophy holds true for cars, houses, furniture, computers, etc.  Don’t purchase the cheapest thing you can find – you will probably have to replace it sooner rather than later and will be disappointed in the quality anyhow; imagine the cheapest tiny home.  Don’t always get the most expensive item either; imagine a huge luxurious mansion – it probably won’t fit into your budget.  Most of the time there will be a better value in between those extremes.  Buy what you need, nothing more, nothing less.  I know that advice is sufficiently vague, but it still describes my overarching philosophy when it comes to purchasing – pretty much anything over $100.  Let’s see if I stayed true to my philosophy on my recent computer purchase.


I bought my old computer (another iMac) in 2010.  I’ve had it for almost 8 years now – feels like an eternity in technology time; but the computer I owned was always cheaper than a new computer, so I kept using the old one.  I really wanted to replace it a couple years ago (there were new shiny things in the Apple store) but I realized my old one was still functional, albeit really slow, and a new computer didn’t really fit into the budget anyhow.  So I held onto it; can’t hold on.   .   .   much.   .    .


I believe I paid about $1,200 for my old iMac in 2010.  I believe most people keep a desktop computer for 2-3 years, but I think they’re actually designed to last 5 years; so I was “suffering” from frugality fatigue after 8 years.  Apple declared that their 2009 iMac line was obsolete – as of November 2017 (some of you probably think it was obsolete all along); therefore I figure the 2010 model (mine) will be declared obsolete (no more support from Apple (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) this fall.  8 years seemed long enough. I also knew that everyone, including my wife and son, would enjoy a better, faster computer with the latest processor, operating system, etc.  Plus, it finally fit into the budget.


I’m going to back up and give an overview of what we use our computer for and then get into the specs of our new rig (techie slang for a computer).  My wife uses the computer for a lot of things including managing our cabin rental business, some online classes for her continuing professional education requirements, as well as some personal/household purposes (e.g., ordering groceries from Walmart for pickup).  My 12 year old son mostly uses it for games, but there are some school assignments that require the use of a computer too.  I use it for our household budget ( and excel), research, work from home (occasionally), and of course this blog.  We don’t do any hard-core gaming, but I figure my son might be interested in more serious gaming (i.e., better graphics) as he gets older, so I wanted at least decent specs for that possibility.


Since my philosophy is to keep the computer for at least 5 years, I took some steps to upgrade my specs to help “future-proof” my setup and hopefully get the computer to last a little longer – not sure I can go 8 years again, but I will give it the old college try nonetheless .   .    .


Some specs on my new computer – along with some geekbench 4 results (a way to measure computer performance – you can see them at the bottom of this post) for techies as well as anyone else who might be in the market for a new computer.


21.5 inch retina 4K display


3.6 GHz intel Core i7 (seventh generation Kaby lake quad core processor with turbo boost to 4.2 GHz)


16 GB RAM (upgradeable to 32 GB)


2 GB VRAM, AMD radeon pro 555 GPU (dedicated graphics card)


1 TB hard drive, HDD at 5400 RPM


2 Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C)


4 USB 3.0 ports


Extended rechargeable keyboard with number pad


I also purchased Microsoft office for Mac (2016 version) – mostly for excel, word, and outlook.


I think that covers most of the specs.  I paid extra to move from the i5 to the i7 processor, as well as opting for 16 GB of RAM rather than the stock 8 GBs.  I also got the extended keyboard.  My cost, including upgrades, software, and taxes was $1,973.


My one struggle was related to the hard drive.  The stock storage option is a 1 TB HDD (old school spinning drive).  1 TB is plenty but I admit I was disappointed this wasn’t a solid-state drive (SSD).  For an extra $400 I could replace the stock 1 TB HDD with a 512 GB SSD.  I asked if it was made out of gold, but sadly it was not.    .     .  I think an extra $400 for a solid-state drive, with only 512 GB (50% reduction in storage), was extremely over-priced; and I wasn’t willing to pay the “Apple tax” on this particular upgrade (plus I couldn’t afford it); however, solid state drives are much faster, especially in boot up, than old-fashioned spinning drives (HDD).  Probably at least 30% faster.

old school

My plan, which may or may not be total rubbish, is to see if I can live with the HDD – at least for awhile.  I don’t boot up every day and maybe it won’t be too bothersome after I get used to it (imagine the world’s smallest violin playing me a lullaby).  My backup plan – should it become necessary – is to buy an external SSD and connect it via USB-C.  I would use this as my boot drive and use the internal HDD as a back-up disk/extra storage.  I think this configuration is possible but it would probably cost at least $200 (maybe more).  I am requesting help from Adam Christianson at The MacCast (podcast about all things Macintosh).  I’m hoping he will tell me my backup plan has merit.    .     .

studio all in one

I compared my computer to the new Microsoft surface studio (pictured above).  I believe this is Microsoft’s first all-in-one computer and it appears to be quite comparable to the iMac I purchased.  The Microsoft studio that I looked at (in the Microsoft store) had very similar specs to my iMac (studio does have a touch screen while an iMac doesn’t).  It has an i7 processor (Skylake, 6th generation), 16 GB of RAM, 28 inch 4K display, 2 GB GPU, and sports a starting price of $3,500 (without software?!).  Ouch!  I checked the geekbench scores for this rig and they were not that impressive, especially at this price point.  .     .  You might argue that I am just trying to justify my $2,000 purchase – you would be right of course – but that’s still a lot of cheddar for a computer.   .   .

mac guy

Let me start an argument about why I prefer a Mac over a PC (because that won’t be controversial at all).  I know for many this is a quasi-religious, emotion-filled, passionate debate.   I don’t think about it like that at all.  A computer is a tool (full stop).  I use a PC everyday at work – it runs windows; I use word and excel almost every day.  I also use a Mac almost every day – like I am now.  I have MS office installed on my Mac.  I really enjoy using word, excel and outlook.  I have a significant amount of experience in both worlds and personally prefer the Mac experience.  I think it’s a personal preference and believe you could list of number of pros and cons for both Macs and PCs.  Feel free to judge me (agreement is not required); peer pressure lost its powers of persuasion on me a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away .   .    .   .


  • Macs are reliable, fast, and a good life-cycle value (IMHO).  I kept my last Mac for almost 8 years and it still works today (admittedly slower).  It’s a simple, stable operating system that virtually never crashes and requires few updates.  Apple optimizes the software to work with the hardware. I can’t say the same for my work PC.  If you think I’m paying an Apple tax, compare the price and performance of the MS studio (see above).  I will put some geekbench 4 scores at the end of the article.


  • Virus protection – get the hate filled comments ready. I don’t run virus protection on my computer.  I do have Malwarebytes for Mac (active/full version) installed on my computer because some of my son’s games have had some unwanted guests in the past.  Sure a Mac can get a virus, but they generally don’t.  Stay away from the unsavory parts of the internet and I bet you’ll be fine.  It’s a math thing; about 85% of the worlds computers are PCs, therefore virus writers target PCs.  Virus protection software slows down the operating system and is an added expense, not to mention being a nuisance.


  • I’m not a gamer. I’m sure a hard-core gamer will brag that his gaming rig will play Call of Duty 8 better than my Mac.  I bet dollars to doughnuts that’s true.  Again, not a gamer.  .    .


  • I’m already in the Apple ecosystem with 2 Apple TVs, 2 iphones, an iMac, and an ipad. The software works well across devices.  The operating systems are very similar and allows me to be intellectually lazy – it’s pretty convenient actually.  I love the photos app and how Apple automatically puts my photos (taken from my iPhone X) together into “memories” with a slideshow and sound; that is easily accessed from my big screen TV.


  • I don’t really want to customize my computer (nor build my own). I want it to work well, straight out of the box, and don’t want to think about it much actually.  I just want it to work.  I realize that you can probably customize a PC in ways I can’t customize my Mac.


I have also experienced really good customer support from Apple.  I have called their customer service numerous times and have found them to be helpful regardless of my problem.  I have even called them years after my free phone support ended and they helped me anyhow.  I think it’s really convenient to be able to call the same company about a hardware or software issue.  It’s also easier during the purchasing process – just sayin’ (migration assistant is great).  I think that would be more confusing with a PC because there are so many manufacturers; Microsoft produces the software but not all the hardware.   .    .

I confess I don’t really understand all the Mac haters.  I don’t have a passion filled, quasi-religious opinion of any of my possessions actually.  It’s just a tool.  I’m also a Chevy guy.  I cheer for the Tarheels, Braves, Panthers.   .   .

You get the picture.

Please leave a comment below on which computer you prefer, and why PC is way better than a MAC (you know you want to).


old imac.jpg

new imac


Do this don’t do that (can’t you read the signs?)



Who are you? Think about it before you answer.  Does your job define you?  Are you a collection of your habits (more on that later)? Maybe it’s your thoughts and beliefs that make you who you are?

I believe in God the Father
Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried
And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am

“Creed” by Third Day


I read a couple articles recently about habits of millionaires, as they are compared and contrasted to the habits of the poor (an empirical study). I will put a link at the bottom of this post because the vast majority of this content comes from one of these articles. I’m not really saying I personally agree with all these habits or presume that doing these habits will necessarily make you a millionaire. However, I certainly think its a worthwhile exercise to contemplate the consequences of these habits and then consider my own habitsHint, there’s room for improvement.  I’ll put my comments in blue


From (Thomas Corley) – he spent 5 years tracking the daily habits of 233 self-made millionaires and 128 poor people.


  1. Gambling habits – 6% of millionaires played the lottery vs. 77% of the poor. Please don’t subscribe to a get rich quick scheme.  Financial success takes time.  Im doing well in this category, woo hoo!


Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows over time.  Proverbs 13:11


  1. Dream-setting habits – 64% of millionaires in this study were pursuing a dream vs. 9% of the poor.   My dream is to be debt-free.   .    .  See my previous post on establishing a financial dream.


  1. Goal setting habits – 62% of millionaires are focused on achieving goals every day vs. 6% of the poor.  I set 8 – 10 financial goals for the upcoming year (usually in late December) and then see how I did at the end of the year.  I did pretty well last year but some still got carried over into 2018.   .    .


  1. Health habits – 21% of millionaires were overweight by 30 pounds or more vs. 66% of the poor. 76% of millionaires exercised 30 minutes or more each day vs. 23% of the poor. 25% of millionaires ate fast food each week vs. 69% of the poor. 13% of millionaires got drunk once a month vs. 60% of the poor.  Drinking too much alcohol could affect your memory and ability to think clearly.  “Poor health habits create detrimental luck“. Wealthy people value their health. Wealthy people eat healthy, exercise consistently, sleep seven or more hours per night, and make a daily habit of flossing.   This is a mixed bag for me.  I maintain a healthy weight; however,  I eat too much fast food, but I have significantly reduced eating french fries and red meat. I try to eat subway as well as chicken sandwiches more and cheeseburgers only occasionally.  I only drink one soda per day and drink 30 – 60 ounces of water per day.  I make sure to have my annual physical.  I wear my fitbit and try to get 10,000 steps each day.  Some days I don’t quite get there.   .   .

fast food

Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead be filled with the holy spirit. Ephesians 5:18


  1. Time habits – 63% of millionaires spent less than 1 hour per day on recreational internet use vs. 26% of the poor. 67% of millionaires watched 1 hour or less of TV per day vs. 23% of the poor. 67% of millionaires maintained daily “to-do” lists vs. 6% of the poor. 44% of millionaires got up 3 hours or more before they started their work day vs. 3% of the poor. The rich would rather be educated than entertained. Making productive use of time is a hallmark of millionaires. Procrastination “prevents even the most talented individuals from realizing success in life” Corley writes. Procrastination is a big reason why you are struggling financially in life.  I’m a chronic procrastinator – ok, its actually worse than that; I’m an optimistic procrastinator – if I put it off long enough I won’t have to do it at all, right?  I watch too much TV, especially sports, and I usually don’t get up till 6:30 and I’m not really a human-being until 8 am.   .    .

tv sports

  1. Living below their means habits – 73% of millionaires were taught the 80/20 rule (live off 80% save 20%) vs. 5% of the poor.  I’m doing ok here, I’m saving 15% for retirement and don’t normally have credit card debt – with the occasional rough month.   .   .


  1. Relationship management habits – 6% of millionaires gossip vs. 79% of the poor. 75% of millionaires were taught to send thank you cards vs. 13% of the poor. 6% of millionaires say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of the poor. 68% of millionaires pursue relationships with success-minded people vs. 11% of the poor. Wealthy people also make it a point to limit their exposure to toxic, negative peopleI’m doing fairly well here, no gossiping and I do limit my exposure to overly negative people.  I’m pretty good at saying thank you but I think there is always room to improve on showing your co-workers/friends/family how much you appreciate them.


  1. Learning habits – 88% of millionaires read for learning every day vs. 2% of the poor. I’m reading 3 books right now (see pics below). Plus, I try to read the Bible every day as well (currently reading Proverbs, with our son, as our bed time devotional, it’s God’s word, just sayin’).

love your life


way book

  1. Positive mental outlook – 79% believed they were the cause of their circumstances in life vs. 18% of the poor.   43% believed they would one day be rich vs. 13% of the poor. “long-term success is only possible when you have a positive mental outlookI do fairly well here, most days.   .    .



  1. Emotional habits – 19% of millionaires lost their temper in the last month vs. 43% of the poor.  Yeah, about this one, there’s room for improvement.   .    .


  1. Keeping a job you hate – The wealthiest, most successful people pursue their passions. “passion makes work fun. Passion gives you the energy, persistence, and focus needed to overcome failures, mistakes, and rejection.  I’m pretty confident I’m in the right field, and I also work for a good company in a good industry.  See my post on career advice 2

  1. Sticking to your comfort zone – While the average person finds peace of mind in familiarity, and hesitates to leave their comfort zone, rich people find comfort in uncertainty.  Yeah, about this one, I really like my warm blanket.  .   .


The pursuit of wealth requires that you take risks. Most don’t, and that’s why most are not wealthy.  Fear of criticism is the reason we do not seek feedback from others, but feedback helps you understand if you are on the right track. Seeking criticism, good or bad, is a crucial element for learning and growth.

My wife says this post was boring and preachy.  Wonder if she was referring to me or just this post?  Don’t answer that .    .    .

Drop me a comment below and let me know if this post was boring and preachy.    .   .



For those of you keeping score at home, the title of this post was an ode to “signs”, a song by The Five Man Electrical Band, 1970.


What’s for dinner?

food prep.jpg

Apparently, 80% of us don’t have a clue; come to think of it, that describes me pretty much all the time .   .     .


Seriously, according to the Walmarts, “more than 80% of Americans don’t know what they will have for dinner tonight, scrambling to find a meal puts pressure on a family” This is the reason that Walmart will start offering prepared meals at its stores for the first time. 10 different meals are now available in 250 stores, and the program will expand to 2,000 locations by year-end. Prices of Walmart’s new prepared meals will range from $8 to $10.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on the most popular meal prep services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh anyhow – so this Bloomberg article announcing Walmart’s entry into the mix was my cue to give these services a good look. Are these services worth your time and money? How do they taste? How long does it really take to prepare? How does the cost compare to grocery shopping or even going out to eat?

I should probably refresh my analysis but recall that restaurant meals cost about $12.75 per person per meal (on average) (, while cooking at home costs about $2-4 per person per meal (USDA); I’m sure both those figures are a little dated and will definitely depend on what kind of food you order. I just wanted to start this analysis with some reference price points. I believe most of the meal prep services are about $10 – $12 per person per portion.

See below a link to my previous post about my weakness for food.  I don’t miss too many meals.   .     .


blue apron

Blue Apron claims that the grocery store is “70% more expensive” than their meal prep service. That statement seems a little outlandish to me but their thought process is also a little narrow minded (ignores other alternatives). On an ingredient for ingredient basis Blue Apron might actually be slightly cheaper (e.g., sustainably-sourced, farm-fresh, high-quality chicken), compared to prices at your local grocery store ( and

I believe most of the meal prep services are about $20 per meal (feeds 2) or about $10 per person per meal.  So if you tried to recreate the exact same recipe from Blue Apron, without using cheaper alternatives, you wouldn’t really save any money by going to the grocery store; however, you could certainly prepare an alternative meal for less – I would argue you could probably do an alternative for $5 per person per portion, or less (ramen noodles anyone?).


These services provide the convenience of meal/recipe planning (including pre-measuring the ingredients), shopping, and delivery – this is the main reason that busy families use them.  I would argue you will always pay a little more for convenience (time is money after all); but for some, this convenience may well be worth it.    .    .

My wife is a good cook and I’m extremely grateful that she plans and prepares most of our dinners (I got married so I wouldn’t have to be responsible). She really dislikes meal planning though. Having to decide what to prepare – the recipes, the ingredients, going to the store .   .      .  What’s healthy? What’s quick & easy? What about variety and taste?

blue apron food

Since these services require you to complete the preparation and cooking of their meal kits, I believe the appropriate comparison is grocery shopping. Don’t forget that it will take 45 minutes to 1 hour to completely prepare and cook these kits so I don’t recommend these for folks who hate to cook.

hello fresh

Hello Fresh appears to have bigger portions than Blue Apron so I think I will give Hello Fresh a trial soon (maybe I will blog about that experience). I believe a number of the meal prep services have coupon promotions so I encourage you to check out a number of these services and determine if any are right for your family? There are a number of services out there but not all of them will be available in your area.  Each service is a little different so do some research online (links below) – You Tube has lots of reviews of each service as well – with visuals (and opinions of course) of what you get in a typical meal prep box.  If you have never tried one of these services, I suggest you pick one and go for it!


Blue Apron  Probably the most well known of the meal kit services.  I have not tried them but maybe you should get a coupon and give them a try.  I understand that some of the online reviewers think their portions are too small – might be advantageous if you are on a diet or really want to reduce your food waste.  I believe their normal pricing is $60 for 3 meals that serve 2 people.  $10 per portion per person.  The prep time is 30 to 45 minutes.


Hello Fresh  The only service that I have personally tried (only once).  It was pretty tasty and convenient. They get good reviews online – some prefer Hello Fresh, compared to Blue Apron, based on large portions, tasty recipes, being well organized, and ease of use.  3 meals for 2 people is $69.  $11.50 per portion per person.


Plated  Appears to be one of the more complex (chopping, dicing, preparation) meal services out there.  3 dinners for 2 people is $72.  $12 per portion per person.


PeachDish  This is another one I really want to try because it appears to have a southern flare with a main dish, a side, and a vegetable (here in the south we call this a meat & two).  Pricing starts at $12.50 per portion per person.


Purple Carrot  All vegan service designed by a food columnist from the New York Times.  These are fairly complex recipes with somewhat unusual ingredients.  3 dinners for 2 people is $68.  $11.33 per portion per person.


Home Chef  One of the simplest from a pricing perspective – almost all meals are $9.95 per portion per person.  Definitely not as “sophisticated” as the Purple Carrot.  Described as a good choice for the consumer who isn’t dedicated to organic, free-range, non-GMO food.


There are others out there (e.g. Green Chef, Chef’d, etc.) but I think you get the idea. I also didn’t include Walmart or Amazon because I don’t think they are available in most places just yet.  I found a good list of reasons to try these services from Forbes and I am going to share their list and a link to their article at the bottom of the post.


  1. You will most certainly improve your culinary skills and repertoire.


  1. It is SO much fun, and never gets old opening the box to see what’s for dinner.


  1. You will surprise yourself–preparing recipes you might otherwise gloss over in a magazine or cookbook.


  1. The ingredients are, for the most part, fresher, higher-quality and generally better than you might find at your average chain grocery store.


  1. Your children will get engaged with the process—because, see item #2, you are opening a box and it is like Christmas at dinner time.


I’m actually really curious if any of ya’ll have tried any of these services and what your thoughts are? Please comment below or send me an email at  I don’t have a strong opinion for or against these services – as long as you budget for them and get good value for your family.

family dinner

Are Home Improvements a good idea?

home improvements


I’m selfishly asking because I’m pondering this very question myself. What’s the cost-benefit analysis look like?  Our home is over 20 years old and there are many areas that are starting to show some age (don’t believe me.   .   .   just ask my wife). For example our kitchen is pretty dated. Yes, we watch too much HGTV, and we really enjoy the show Fixer Upper.

fixer upper

I realize that Fixer Upper is just a TV show (but we love Chip & Joanna anyhow) but this got me to thinking about when is it smart to spend some hard-earned money on home improvements?  Maybe you recently received a tax refund (national average is over $3,000) or a bonus (from the tax reform act) and are wondering if you should invest some of that in your largest investment – your home?


Before you consider a reno project – calculate you housing expense as a percentage of your income? If it’s greater than 30% then you should probably consider down-sizing to properly fit your budget (ideally 25% of your income, or less). See my previous post on how to decide whether to buy or rent your next house.

On the other hand, if you recently started a family and currently have a one bedroom condo – then maybe you should sell your condo and look for a new place, with more room, to raise your expanding family.


Let me start this analysis off by giving a nod to Dave Ramsey and encourage everyone to properly budget for any home improvements you want to tackle – I don’t want that nice kitchen remodel to be financed via a home equity loan.  Your renovation idea might be a great investment, more on that later in the post, but I want you to eventually be debt-free.  Don’t try to borrow your way to prosperity by “investing” in a $20,000 gourmet kitchen.  Enough small talk – should I spend some of my hard-earned money on updating my 20 something year old home (or not)?


I think it really depends on three things.


1)            How long do you plan to stay in your home? The answer to this question will probably determine how much you should spend and what priorities you should have. If you plan to stay put for a few years then keep reading.


2)            Is this improvement going to make your life better? Think of the improvement to your current situation as the dividend that this “investment” pays.


3)            Finally, will this improvement increase the value of the home when I eventually sell it? I encourage you to walk through your home and objectively evaluate which areas are significantly out-of-date; especially relative to houses in your neighborhood. I encourage you to observe your neighbors’ homes – have most updated their kitchens to granite or quartz counter-tops? If they have – and you still have the original laminate from 20 or 30 years ago – then this might be a big negative to a would-be buyer. I suggest you hire a professional interior designer ($100 or so) to evaluate your home, before you consider a major renovation project; or have a realtor friend come by and give you some free advice on what potential buyers in your area expect.

If you home is over 20 years old, it’s probably also worth your money to pay for another inspection; to see if there are any significant repairs that will necessarily precede any nice-to-have improvement projects you’re dreaming of.


I found some suggested improvements – at different price points – from a USA today article (Nerd Wallet). I think these ideas will potentially make your life better today, as well as be attractive to a would-be buyer in the future.



Replace Cabinet hardware. Changing knobs or handles is a pretty simple DIY project and gives your cabinets a fresh, updated look. Maybe you have some outdated brass hardware – consider something more modern like brushed nickle or a classic black to spruce up your kitchen.


A couple more inexpensive projects they didn’t mention (but I will). Replace an outdated light fixture in your kitchen – could make a huge difference in the look and feel of the kitchen. Or consider spending $100 to have your carpets professionally cleaned. The air quality in your house might be unhealthy .   .   .



Add a tile backsplash. This might not be a good DIY project but a backsplash is much less expensive than a full kitchen remodel and can still significantly change the look and feel of your kitchen.


Refresh interior paint. New paint in some of the main rooms can really brighten up the whole house – and doing the work yourself can really reduce the cost of this project.


Insulate the attic. You can usually get a local insulation company to do a free evaluation of how much insulation you already have, and if you would benefit from additional insulation. You will enjoy lower utility bills and would-be buyers always love energy efficient homes.



Tile a bathroom floor. You might still have the original laminate flooring – that is showing its wear from heavy foot traffic. Opt for bright, easy-to-clean tile instead.


Get a new front door. A new fiberglass door won’t swell or contract like a wooden door. Consider painting it red for a fresh look, as an upgrade to your curb appeal.

red door

Replace inefficient appliances like an old water heater, refrigerator or dishwasher. You will appreciate the newer, more efficient appliances and would-be buyers will have one less thing to worry about when they move in. See my previous post on saving money on your utility bills.



Install new kitchen countertops. Almost all potential buyers want granite, quartz or one of the solid surfaces. Plus the kitchen is the most important room in evaluating a new home according to Zillow.


Replace the garage door. A new garage door recoups around 98% of its cost in improved home value. If you have the original white aluminum door, consider an upgrade to a carriage style door with a stained wood look. It will greatly increase the curb appeal and will mostly likely be more energy efficient as well.

doors carriage

Enhance your landscaping. Stone pavers, a fire pit or exterior lighting could really improve your curb appeal and functionality.


Most home improvements do not pay for themselvesvia a higher sales price; however, they will likely impact if your home sells, and how quickly.

Some renovations manage to recover 80 to 90% of their costs, while others barely cover half their cost ( For this reason, I encourage you to pick projects that will enhance your current life – because you probably can’t justify adding a 5th bedroom to your house merely as an “investment”. It’s very unlikely that you will make a profit on your upgrades. Don’t upgrade beyond your neighborhood. Adding a pool might be very unusual in your neighborhood and actually might be a detriment when trying to sell because you over-improved for your area.


If you decide to hire a contractor, shop around and ask friends for recommendations; at least get some references from the contractor and speak with them. I encourage you to get multiple quotes (3 preferably) if you plan on spending more than $1,000.


Remember that most repairs and maintenance won’t increase the resale value of your home. If you recently replaced a leaky roof or an old HVAC system don’t expect to raise the selling price to cover those costs. It might actually hurt your resale price if you don’t do these necessary repairs.  .     .


My advice is to focus on small projects that you can afford and that truly make your life better today. I recommend you focus on the kitchen – especially if it’s out-of-date (like mine). Please steer clear of big projects like an in-ground pool or a gourmet kitchen. These projects might involve debt and are probably lousy investments anyhow.